By Richard Meek

The Catholic Commentator

St. Joseph Cathedral and the Diocese of Baton Rouge will be featured in a national television series scheduled to air in September 2020 on outlets to be determined. 

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 Msgr. Kieran Harrington of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York, interviews Bishop Michael G. Duca for an episode of “The Chair,” a series that will air nationally in 2020.  Photos by Richard Meek | The Catholic Commentator  

 

“The Chair” is the story of the bishops of the United States as seen through the prism of their parish church, which is the local cathedral, said series host Msgr. Kieran Harrington of the Diocese of Brooklyn, New York.  

The Diocese of Baton Rouge is one of 40 dioceses in the United States that will be featured, a list that includes the Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux.  

“Here is a church (the Baton Rouge diocese) in the South, a church that is vibrant, has a unique character and speaks to not just Catholicism but Catholicism in the country,” Msgr. Harrington said. “It says here is a diverse place, a community that half the state is white, a large portion African-American, a huge Vietnamese population and a growing Hispanic population. It is a metaphor for what is happening in other parts of the country as well.”  

He noted how Baton Rouge was initially a part of the Archdiocese of Cuba and later became a French church. He said that the church is changing again.  

“You can see all of that playing itself out,” Msgr. Harrington said. “What does it mean to be Creole? To me that is the impression I see.”  

He added that in Louisiana “one can’t help but think of (former Governor) Huey Long. That has an influence on the culture and character of the city and the people in the city.”  

Msgr. Harrington, who interviewed Bishop Michael G. Duca in the cathedral’s sanctuary on Aug. 11 for the episode, said the first cathedrals historically became the center of the first parishes in the country. He said the series is a story of the United States, the story of Catholicism in the United States.  

“A country that is we understand today is very different than what it was at our founding,” said Msgr. Harrington. “A church that was impacted by American Indians, Spaniards, French, Germans, Irish, by now newcomers, Vietnamese, south and central American. How it adds to the vitality to building up the body of Christ in the United States. 

“And specifically it speaks to the shepherds of these congregations, of these churches. And how is that decisions are made, why are decisions made. What is the essence of faith that enables bishops to be shepherds?”  

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Bishop Duca discusses his personal and ministerial background with Msgr. Harrington in the sanctuary at St. Joseph Cathedral. The series is the story of the bishops of the United States as seen through the prism of their parish church, which is the local cathedral.  

 

Msgr. Harrington questioned Bishop Duca not only about the bishop’s personal and ministerial background but also about his faith.  

“That fundamental question: Who do people say that I am?” Msgr. Harrington said.  

He said the apostles were eyewitnesses and their testimony is believable because they were willing to shed their blood.  

“Today, who are these modern day witnesses?” Msgr. Harrington said. “They are the bishops primarily. They are the source of unity in the church.” 

“If you think about the apostolic models.: Fishermen, shepherd. And how does somebody go from being a fisherman to a shepherd.”  

He noted that Bishop Duca, a former vocations director in the Diocese of Dallas, was at one point a fisherman. And then he became a shepherd when he was appointed bishop for the Diocese of Shreveport, and 10 years later for the Diocese of Baton Rouge.  

“There is a different skill set and how does that play into the life of one man,” Msgr. Harrington said.  

The monsignor explained that the series is rooted in the idea the role of the shepherd, or bishop, is misunderstood and has been marred by the problems in the life of the church. He said people often look at the church as having a CEO and branch managers.  

“But that is not what the church is,” he said. “These are spiritual relationships. When we try to get back to spiritual roles at play here we can understand those dynamics a little bit better.”  

Msgr. Harrington said his hope is to portray the spiritual relationship between the bishop and the people. He said that is why the cathedral in every diocese is so important, and important to the chair.  

He noted the bishop is not a king but a shepherd.  

“Yet, when you talk about the roles of preaching, teaching, sanctifying and governing, how do you negotiate all of these different roles?” Msgr. Harrington said. 

He noted the role of brother-friend involving the bishop and clergy members is complex.  

“How do you negotiate that, being friends with someone you have to manage, have governance over?” he said. “It’s a challenge to understand the whole new situations (when a bishop is appointed to a new diocese or archdiocese) and the lens by which decisions are made. There are corporate considerations but (the bishop asks himself) ‘How do I made decisions which are good decisions from the consideration of stewardship but also at the time for the spiritual good of somebody? Those are sometimes different realities and trying to negotiate that (is difficult).”  

He said the cathedral will be featured through video images throughout and will include its history, architecture and beauty.  

“It is nice to have an objective professional group of journalists and media specialists come and show off our cathedral,” St. Joseph pastor Father Paul Counce. “We are here every day. But it’s our home, we are comfortable here. It’s always nice to have it looked at by a fresh set, of eyes.”  

Father Counce said that being pastor of a church that will be featured nationally is a “source of additional pride.”  

Msgr. Harrington said the series is being filmed through NET TV and discussions are being held with several platforms concerning its eventual airing. He envisions perhaps a two-part overall series followed by the airing of episodes featuring individual dioceses.